As founder of her own jewelry company, Lana Fertelmeister spends a lot of time on the road, meeting with buyers in San Francisco, Miami, and New York. She always hurries back home. Her fiancé, friends, and family are all in Chicago. Maybe more important, Chicago is her touchstone. Seeing women on the coasts wearing Lana Unlimited necklaces or earrings is no big deal. "Those are trend-driven places," she says. "But when I am walking on Michigan Avenue and I see a woman wearing a Lana, then I know I've succeeded."
Fertelmeister fell into jewelry design after falling in love. Born in Moscow, she moved here in 1980 as a 5-year-old with her businessman father and doctor mother. After studying fashion management and public relations at Columbia College, she started a clothing line, which she then sold to Nordstrom (JWN). In 2002, she opened her own store in the Bloomingdale mall at 900 N. Michigan Ave. It didn't last long. But that same year, she went on a blind date and, she says, "felt an immediate soul connection. He kissed my hand," she says, "and I knew this was the man I would marry."
Though her date, Rob Bramlette, moved in 10 days later, the couple decided they hadn't known one another long enough to get engaged. But Fertelmeister, who is as tall and striking as a model, wanted to signal that she was unavailable to other men. She designed a delicate gold necklace spelling out "Rob" and wore it. Women in elevators started asking where they could buy one. Fertelmeister sold the first batch of five for $300 each. She made a dozen more, and they sold. "It quickly got out of hand," she says.
In 2003, she went to Fred Segal in Los Angeles, bedecked from head to toe in her own jewelry, and persuaded a buyer to add her collection to the boutique's line. A week later, Cameron Diaz wore a pair of Lana earrings at the premiere of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Orders poured in.
Fertelmeister, 33, designs her jewelry out of a River North studio. Bracelets range from $800 to $2,500, rings from $280 to $3,300, earrings from $165 to $3,500, and necklaces from $315 to $8,000. She raised prices 15% last November as gold prices surged, but she says sales are still rising. Revenue should hit $6 million this year, up from $3.5 million in 2007.
The Big House
Her office is a small, quiet place. She employs a staff of seven, three of whom handle marketing and PR—getting Lana's line in such magazines as InStyle, In Touch Weekly, and People. Her biggest buyer, Neiman Marcus, contacted her after seeing a photo of Diaz wearing Lana. Saks.com sells her jewelry.
Locally, such upscale shops as Krista K Boutique in Lakeview and Sweet William in Hinsdale carry her line. Fertelmeister says she loves hearing that celebs love her stuff—Sandra Bullock and Kate Hudson are reportedly fans. But she says everyone has to pay. Rachel Weisz wore a pair of her earrings at a photo shoot and refused to take them off afterward. "We said: No problem, where can we fax you the invoice?"
In the room next to Fertelmeister's office, her father, Naum, balances the books and helps Lana plot strategy. His title is chief financial officer, but she says he helps with everything. She asked him to give up a 15-year career at Motorola (MOT) to join her company in 2004. Fertelmeister is all big gestures and giant dreams; her dad often stares at her coolly and, she says, brings her down to earth. Her plans include a cheaper line of jewelry for younger women, accessories such as perfume and candles with flakes of real gold, and a whole line of clothes. "I'm not going to be just a jewelry designer," she says. "I'm building the House of Lana."